Lord of the Rings:LCG - reviews and general thoughts

It all started with accepting 100 plays challenge and pledging to comment each play. Soon my thoughts outgrew the BGG comment format and also FFG's forum. I decided to post them in a form of a blog here. In time I got rid of session reports and replaced them with expansions reviews. Enjoy.
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Khazad dum sceario 2 - The seventh level - Can comments be longer then the scenario itself?

Wojtek Wojcik
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Board Game Designer
I very much like designing games but I think I prefer to play them.
Metallum ... game I most proud of.
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Here is a compilation of my comments on the scenario, note that they were made some time ago and I have not edited them much so they tell a story of how my view point changed (but my current opinion may differ). They are presented chronologically in each section.

[Session Reports]

Date: 08 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Legolas (earlier Boromir) (tactics/spirit)
Played 4 times: 3 loses and 1 win.

This time I've broken my own rule and glanced at the cards composing the scenario before playing. I saw many enemies and decided to that this a good excuse to finally significantly change my deck. I got rid of leadership and went with one spirit and two tactics heroes. Here is the summary of my experiences:
- First attempt (I used Boromir here). Goblin Archers were the bane of existence this time. I had almost no way to deal with them except Gandalf (I overlooked that 3 copies of one time use attack eagle had ranged skill). At first I was not worried looking at huge amount of hit points my tactics heroes had but ... when two of them were in the staging area - I was taking two (or even four) wounds in one round and my progress was completely stooped.
- I decided to modify my deck to include more ranged characters but decided that the only way to be sure to have them in play is to replace Boromir with Legolas. This time I was unable to draw any allies and with three man team the pool of events I had in my hand quickly dwindled down to handle some not so difficult situations. I was soon overwhelmed by the enemies unable to keep up with limited support.
- I reduced the number of weapons in my deck and replaced them with more allies. I also included more spirit allies as resources kept piling up on Eowyn. This time I had an excellent draw and was sure to succeed this time. Everything went well until Orc Summoner appeared - including the additional enemy from scenario I had 4 enemies in the staging area after this phase. I looked at my cards and decided that I can still pull it off. Two of my allies went down and two enemies went down but ... shadow effects added next two enemies to the staging area before next round even started ... which added two more. I was dead.
- I was about to give up but determination kept me going and decided to go one more. I won this time but to tell the truth it was still though and it took me 11 turns (I was fairly lucky with draws in the second stage this time). Again I had problem with the archers. I realized that Legolas without any weapon can't kill them due to their ridiculously high defence of 3. Nevertheless once I was able to deal with them it went much better.

Date: 08 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Legolas (tactics/spirit)
Played 4 times: lost x3, won once

After each subsequent loss I went and adjusted my deck a little but it seems that I can't beat the quest on a regular basis. I will not go into the details of each play as the scenario seems fairly standard - I get overwhelmed by tons of enemies. As for deck tweaks I added more allies (spirit with 2 will power). What is even worse after so many failures my successful attempt didn't feel all that great and I would say that luck contributed as much to my success as deck changes.

Date: 12 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Legolas (tactics/spirit)
Played 2 times, won both.

After so many losses it was refreshing to win twice in a row. I had previously constructed deck with me and was able to play for a bit. It means that I was unable to test any of previously presented ideas but here is short description of my experiences this time:
- First try was like walk in the park. Enemies were coming one or two at the time and even troll was unable to impress me much (I used feint and killed him right after that). In three turns I was ready to go to the second stage and I was able to beat it in two turns and achieved the best score so far.
- Second one was much harder. I had three enemies (including troll) engaged with me and two more waiting in the staging area at some point. Nevertheless by "clever wound distribution" among heroes i was able to survive and put everything under control. I won with the worst score so far this time. All of my heroes had max number of wounds possible on them.

Date: 14 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Thalin (tactics/spirit)
Played 3 times - lost twice, won once (beat my worst score)

I was abut to play the game with my recently successful deck but since this time I had my cards handy I decided to try replacing Legolas with Thalin. I attached the Book of M. to him so he can be committed to the quest and still be able to act as a defender. Losses were due to enemies swarming and location(!) lock. In all three games I faced trolls coming in close succession (twice it was round after round so I guess my shuffling was not throughout enough). I made small adjustments to my deck each time (getting rid of the armor, blade of Gondolin and replacing them with Veteran Axehand and Dwarrowdelf Axe). I felt confident that my deck is ready but still I lost twice. Here are some things that work great:
- Thalin and Gondorian spearman is an auto-kill for most of the enemies that come from the encounter deck (bypassing the shadow effect which is very important)
- One troll is not a great threat by itself although I usually need to sacrifice a strong ally (Winged Guardian all Gandalf) and powerful event (feint, quick strike etc.)
- Thalin auto-kill on Goblin archers.
Here are some things that were not great:
- Two troll is the row are also manageable most of the time but it cost me too much and if shadow effects are though I am left too vulnerable.
- Not enough shadow cancel (although I fell I have many ways, auto-kill combo as above, swift strike, hasty stroke ... would love to have burning brand somehow)
- Thalin can't attack because of the book (although I need him committed to the quest anyway) this means that faint becomes waker then with Legolas as I am loosing some attack power.
- Not enough quest power to quickly go through stage two (here the loss of Legolas was visible and allowed for location lock once)

Date: 14 Nov 2012 (it is hard to keep the dates stright)
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Thalin (tactics/spirit)
Played 2 times - won twice

After last games I made two adjustments got rid of Stand up and Fight and Dwarrowdelf Axe and added Eagles of the Misty Mountains and Escort from Edoras. First choice was to add more expensive tactics allies as in several games I saw this resources pilling up on the heroes and I like the versatility of EoftMM as they can both quest and fight well (their response might be also interesting but my deck comes with 9 eagles cards in total so I am not counting on it much). Escort from Edoras was added mainly to push through stage two fast.
- First play was a fairly straightforward win although early troll did make me go slower than I would like.
- In the second play I've drawn Goblin Archer as a setup card (very unlucky draw for my deck as otherwise those guys die from Thalin's ability). This constant +2 threat lead to a location lock (augmented by annoying goblin scout) that almost killed me but with the help of Escort from Edoras and all my questing characters I was able to brake it. I lost a lot of time though and threat was a real danger but strong questing power (timely Gandalf helped) allowed me to get through stage 2 fast.

Date: 18 Nov 2012
Heroes (spheres): Eowyn, Gimli, Thalin (tactics/spirit)
Played 4 times - lost twice, won twice

First defeat was caused by the second troll coming before I was able to deal with the first one (actually other enemies slowed me down with killing the first troll). This was too much to handle and my heroes were defeated. In the second attempt treacheries had their way with me and the troll sealed my fate. Three of my allies were discarded due to treacheries and in that final one was discarded when defending the troll (which meant auto-kill on one of the heroes). I decided to play for a while (as troll did go down after that) but when unexpected courage of Gimli was discarded on another treachery I knew I was going down.

As for successful attempts there was not much to them. I got my deck going and even orc horn blower was unable to stop me although it did slow me down on my second attempt.

[General Thoughts]
DEC 2012 NOTE: Following comments might look strange presented in order as I go back and forward on the scenario. Please treat them as a stream of conciousness (you can match them with above play experiences at times).

Oh man! This was way harder that I expected. After all FFG's DL for this scenario is 3 which is the second easiest ever. I think playtesters that assigned it were very very lucky in their attempts or their deck building skills are through the roof. In all honesty I can see that it can be very easy if you are lucky but it can kill any imaginable fellowship that you could construct with a little help of (un)luck. I feel that difficulty of particular attempt can rage from 1 all the way to 10. I do have some ideas on how to improve my deck though:
- I need more cheap allies with two willpower points - Eowyn needs support in questing at times.
- I am curious if all spirit deck can attempt to run through this scenario with reasonable chance for success.

Wow, talk about frustrating experience! At the same time I feel like FFG is mocking me with their difficulty rating of 3 for this one and this forces me to think about new tweaks to make my deck at least semi successful against this scenario. I even resorted to reading few session reports to get some inspiration on how to improve my deck and found few interesting ideas:
- How about replacing Legolas with Thalin? The main reason for introducing Legolas was to deal with goblin archers ... but what if I could kill them just when they appear from the encounter deck?
- So far I didn't include the escort from Edoras as I felt that one time use allies are a waste for this scenario. Now I see that they might allow me to quickly finish stage two of the quest when things get out of hand quickly.

What I am worried about is the loss of progress I was getting from Legolas and the fact that I will have to keep Gimli behind to attack which means loss of one will power during questing (at least at stage one). We shall see.

So despite the above negative comments you can see that I am intrigued by the scenario which is a good thing of course - it forced me to question my deck building.

What contributed to my wins this time was a slight change in my strategy and a little bit of luck (no orc horn blowers in both attempts - they were discarded as shadow cards). My "new" strategy is two move through stage one slower so that I am in a position to end stage two of the quest in at most two round. This requires a slower progress on stage one (several times in my second try this time I have not used the Legolas ability)

I can see that my deck is fairly effective against this scenario I really see cards that I am not glad to have drawn (maybe I might get rid of the armor for Gimli and replace it with stronger/more expensive tactics ally).

I hate this scenario for its random nature but I love the way it challenges me to optimize my deck to the last single card. On the other hand I can see that as far as mechanics go this quest is fairly weak and only its challenging nature keeps me trying to beat it. As I see it now if I find a deck with over 50% win percentage I will put this quest to rest and do not expect to return to it any time soon.

Having said that I am loving the fact that I get to play with so many new cards (tactics mostly) and said goodbye (for now) to few favorite but overused (Sneak attack, Steward of Gondor, The Galadhrim's Greeting etc.)

One more thing that I like is that now fighting feels very tactical. There usually few ways to deal with a given enemy (enemies) and you need a little bit of planing and some thinking on how to do it.

I think I've finally found a deck that I am satisfied with. Of course random nature of this quest will still lead to losses but I am quite confident that I can win more then 50% of the time now. I will play some more to confirm that but expect reports from the next scenario (Flight from Moria) soon.

All in all my final opinion on this quest is settling on a positive one. Yeah, it is random, non very well balanced and the story it tells is not an engaging one but it forced complete redesign of my deck which is a great thing, it allowed me to see and use so many cards that "were collecting dust" in the box, revisit heroes that I have not seen since playing with core set alone. New challenge is next to new stories and exciting games is something that I look very much in each new adventure pack so even if those other elements are missing I am still happy with how this scenario turned out after all.

I know I am running in circles with a rating on this scenario and I think it will stay like this the end. This time I was dissatisfied with my plays. It feels that after all this deck optimization it still all goes down to how encounter deck is treating me - if it trows its best at me then I am toasted and if not the games are quite boring. I am glad that I am happy with all my draws and rarely I see a card that I feel is a waste at this time this means that the deck is as good as I can do for now.

If I put all this thoughts about The Seventh level scenario together I am coming up with an average score. The thing is that its best quality is that is first combat intensive one that forced me to rethink my strategy but I am fully expecting it to be overshadowed soon by another scenario that will do it much better and in a less random way.

This brings me to a more general observation about gaming (and even beyond): If a game (scenario, movie etc.) brings something new to the table (be it mechanics, felling, story) it will capture your attention for sure but after all the fact whether it is well executed will decide if it will stay and be enjoyed for longer time and be considered seminal or be replaced/forgotten.
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